The biggest thing to do is to disqualify, rather than qualify, your leads as soon as possible.
Location: Toronto, Canada
Product / Service Offering: Digital Advertising RoboAgency
Co-founder Interviewed: Justin Hartzman (above)
This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit; I started my first business when I was 12. I am now in my 30’s with many years of experience and several successful startups and exits. Creating businesses that help people are what motivate me. Every company I have ever started stemmed from a problem that needed a solution. Of course, my beautiful daughter and wife motivate me as well.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
Needls was started in 2014; the idea stemmed from a post my wife noticed on Twitter. One of our friends was looking for developer recommendations to get an app built. It was like a light bulb went off! People are constantly posting about their life and asking their social media worlds for recommendations on hair stylists, plumbers, etc. Why isn’t there a platform that monitors those posts and then sends ads for what those people need in real time? We learned that such a platform didn’t exist; so, my co-founders and I decided to build one ourselves.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
Our users are small business owners who have been left by the wayside far too long when it comes to digital advertising options. There are currently over fifty million small to medium size businesses (SMB) who are on Facebook with hopes of reaching new customers, but only three million of those businesses are using Facebook’s ad platform. This huge gap is because do-it-yourself options and traditional digital agencies are far too expensive and complicated for the SMB owner. Our goal at Needls is to help these small businesses grow by offering a SaaS platform that was designed specifically for them.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
While there may be digital advertising solutions that look similar to Needls on paper, we are the only solution that exists that uses data science and natural language processing to look for purchase intent within social posts in real time. We are delivering ads to people for products and services that they need right when they need them.
The fact that we are fully automated also helps set us apart. Our users do not have to worry about their target demographics, cost per click or click through rate; our 24/7 optimization takes care of all of that for them. Our platform works around the clock to deliver the best campaign results possible for our users.
The competitive landscape that exists today is for enterprises or experienced marketers who are seeking intuitive/glorified dashboards. They help automate tasks, but they do not automate the process from A to Z.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
Our biggest and constant challenge is to produce an intuitive system that meets the needs of our users. Every day we make improvements, additions and subtractions of pieces that are too clumsy, not performing well enough, or taking away from our core focus. This is all a function of being able to have a big enough and humble enough development team to roll with the punches. While not a unique problem, it is certainly one that startups have to understand and embrace from day one. Development challenges from a non-technical founding team are something that must be stopped right away.
Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
We use the method of dogfooding to attract our users, which means we use our own product to sell our service. When people see our ads on Facebook they are being targeted using our technology. This is a very compelling story we continue to track and teach. The reality is it helps prove out the efficacy, as well as increases conversion rates of users to paid users. If you can use your product to sell your product, you are winning.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
Passion, passion, and more passion! It is key for others to believe in you, your product, and your team. If they show the same level of response, this is the kind of partner you should be going to for your funding needs. The biggest thing to do is to disqualify, rather than qualify, your leads as soon as possible.
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Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
Yes – the hard questions need the right resources. This is where it is important to have good mentors and a circle of trust around you to bounce off things.
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
Our challenge is strengthening the Needls bench with the best people and having the resources and culture to ensure their happiness. It is a very competitive landscape. If you can identify those with the same passion, they are the right people. Finding them is not easy; it takes time.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
- Write things down!!!
- Ensure you have the right tools; it makes every job easier when you do.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
It’s very exciting that we are bringing something new to an industry that already has a lot of amazing technology, but it is even better when you have a solid team behind you. You hear it a lot but startup teams are like family because everyone works so close with each other. Every milestone we have hit is even sweeter because it’s a team effort. We have a very bright future with some really big things on the horizon. I am looking forward to celebrating them with my team.
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